A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

San Diego Nightsnake -
Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha klauberi

Tanner, 1944

(= Hypsiglena torquata)
Click on a picture for a larger view

Hypsiglena CA Range MapRange in California: Orange

Click the map for a guide to the
other species and subspecies.

observation link

San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake
Adults, San Diego County © Jason Jones Adult, San Diego County
© 2005 Jeremiah Easter
Adult, Riverside County © Ross Padilla
San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake
Adult, Riverside County © Ross Padilla Adult, Riverside County © Ross Padilla Juvenile, San Diego County.
© Bob Stephens-Doll
Adult, Ventura County © Patrick Briggs
San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake
Adult, coiling defensively, San Diego County. © Steven Krause Adult, San Diego County © Taylor Henry Adult, San Diego County © Taylor Henry
San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake
Underside of adult, Los Angeles County 
© Robert Staehle
Adult, Santa Barbara County
© Michael Gatti
Adult, Riverside County Adult, San Dieg County
© Douglas Brown
San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake San Diego Nightsnake
Adult, Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles County © Huck Triggs Adult, Santa Barbara County Adult, Los Angeles County
© Huck Triggs
San Diego Nightsnake Habitat San Diego Nightsnake Habitat San Diego Nightsnake Habitat  
Coastal San Diego County grassland habitat that is rapidly disappearing due to development. © Brian Hinds
Habitat, San Diego County Habitat, Riverside County  
Short Video of Similar Subspecies
California Nightsnake      
An uncooperative California Nightsnake found on a road at night refuses to do anything worth putting on video but it's all I got...      

Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous)  - Mildly venomous, but not considered harmful to most humans.

Adults can be 12 - 26 inches long (30-66 cm.) Most seen are 8 - 12 inches long, rarely over 16 inches.
Hatchlings are about 7 inches in length.

A small slender snake with a narrow flat head, smooth scales in 19 rows, and vertical pupils.
Color and Pattern
Color varies, often matching the substrate, from light gray, light brown, beige, to tan or cream, with dark brown or gray blotches on the back and sides.
Usually a pair of large dark blotches on the neck and a dark bar through or behind the eyes.
Whitish or yellowish and unmarked underneath.
Subspecies Variation
H. o. klauberi "is characterized by a three-part nuchal collar formed by two lateral blotches, not in contact with the eye stripe, and an elongate, irregular median nape spot."

H. o. nuchalata is "…characterized by large nuchal blotches on the sides that often come together to form a collar, and one row of large dorsal body blotches; the eye stripe comes to a point, just contacting the lateral blotches or collar."  1

Click this image to see an example of the eye stripe differences. This difference may not be always consistent, but it seems to be the best way to differentiate the subspecies.

Life History and Behavior

Nocturnal, and also active at dusk and dawn.
Can be found under rocks, boards, logs, and other surface objects.
Sometimes seen crossing roads on warm nights.
Diet and Feeding
Eats a wide range of terrestrial vertebrates, mostly lizards and their eggs, sometimes small snakes, frogs, and salamanders.
Lays eggs from April to September.

Found in a variety of habitats, often arid areas, from chaparral, Sagebrush flats, deserts, suburban lots and gardens, mountain meadows, grassland. Most commonly found in areas with abundant surface cover.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha klauberi - San Diego Nightsnake, is found from the coast to the coastal slopes of the Peninsular, Transverse, and South Coast Ranges from near Santa Barbara County south to mid Baja California. An old record for Hypsiglena torquata from Santa Cruz Island should be this species..

The species, Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha - Nightsnake, is found in a ring around the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, including the south coast ranges, and the inner north coast ranges and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and south into coastal Southern California to the southern tip of Baja California.
Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
Sea level to 8,700 ft. (2,650 meters).

Notes on Taxonomy
Mulcahy, 2008, conducted a comprehensive genetics study of Hypsiglena, recognizing 6 species, three in the USA, and an undescribed species, all from the one previous species of Hypsiglena torquata. He also maintained several subspecies designations. Within California: H. chlorophaea, and H. ochrorhyncha "…were each recovered as groups of multiple subspecies. The subspecies within these wide-ranging species were maintained pending further evaluation. These subspecies may represent incipient species that may not yet have achieved reciprocal monophyly, but possess unique morphologies, and are geographically discrete." 1

Grismer et al. (1994 Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Science 93(2): 45-80) synonymized the Hypsiglena torquata subspecies deserticola and klauberi because they intergraded widely.

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

H. ochrorhynchus - Coast Night Snake (Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
H. torquata - NIght Snake (Stebbins 1985, 2003)
H. torquata klauberi - San Diego NIght Snake (Stebbins 1966)
H. torquata klauberi (Stebbins 1954)
H. torquata klauberi - San Diegan Spotted Night Snake (Tanner 1944)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Hypsiglena North American Nightsnakes Cope, 1860
Species ochrorhyncha Nightsnake Cope, 1860

klauberi San Diego Nightsnake Tanner, 1944
Original Description
Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha - Cope, 1860
klauberi - Tanner, 1944

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Hypsiglena - Greek - hypsi - on high and glenes - eyeball - probably refers to the vertical pupil

klauberi - Honors the herpetologist Laurence M. Klauber

Taken partly from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

ochrorhyncha - yellow-ochre snout: ochro - Greek (ochra) - yellow-ochre, and rhynchos - a beak, snout

from Jaeger, Edmund C. A Source-book of Biological Names and Terms Third Edition. Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 1962.

Related or Similar California Herps
H. o. nuchalata - California Nightsnake
H. clorophaea deserticola - Northern Desert Nightsnake
Tantilla planiceps - Western Black-headed Snake

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

1 Daniel G. Mulcahy. Phylogeography and species boundaries of the western North American Night snake (Hypsiglena torquata): Revisiting the subspecies concept. ScienceDirect - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 46 (2008) 1095-1115.

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Lemm, Jeffrey. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides). University of California Press, 2006.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Bartlett, R. D. & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.

Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.

Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.

Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1957.

Conservation Status

The following status listings are copied from the 2017 Special Animals List and the 2017 Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status, you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

Check here to see the most current complete lists.

This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.

Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None

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